The Adventures of a Hexagon is a CYOA-style story, implemented as a set of HTML files, about a day in the life of a hexagon. Geometrical shapes, we learn, can escape from textbooks when no one is looking and go off to have their own adventures.
Hexagon is very short. There are only 38 pages, each containing at most a few short paragraphs of text, some of which are extremely similar. I completed every path in about five minutes.
The story is also extremely lacking. Essentially, the PC, a hexagon, can choose to go to either the Museum of Geometry or the Polygon Village, either with his friends, Pentagon, Heptagon, and Octagon, or, in the latter case, alone. Ultimately, if you choose any option other than (Spoiler - click to show)joining with a group of other hexagons, the PC is killed. If you try visiting the village with your friends, the only path to a good ending is (Spoiler - click to show)for the PC to abandon his friends to the tender mercies of a gang of polygons, and find a group of other hexagons to join with. If there is a theme to this story, it is that one must seek out others like oneself--that those who are different are not to be trusted, and one cannot be happy among them.
But I fear I'm giving the game too much credit, saying that. A sample of the game's text should illustrate it better. (Spoiler - click to show)If the PC goes to the museum and, through a series of pages which basically amount to 'specify your path', chooses to look at the triangle exhibit, you are presented with:
You take a closer look, and you realize that the triangle has a little needle point sticking out of it. But it's too late! BLZZZT! It sticks the needle in you, leaving a great big hole in you. Game over! I guess you can never trust a triangle!
That's it. The end. Pick the pentagon exhibit, and you get:
You get your six sides together and hop up on the ledge. The five pentagons say, "You have one side more than all of us! Har, har, har!" You hear a sound like that of a broken record as you are dragged to the wave-pool. Broken record sounds are always a bad sign in a dramatic scene. You are now being dragged underwater by the fierce five-siders. You have been drowned by the pentagons!
Other choices end with the hexagon killed similarly suddenly. Only choosing to view the hexagon exhibit doesn't end in the PC's death:
You approach the hexagons, and they all say, "Hello, Sixling!" The other five hexagons then open the door, and you enter the building just as they do. A late 1990s dance song starts to play as the hexagons hit the dance floor. You join them in a disco-style up-beat dance.
Congratulations! You got to dance with some polygons! You finally found a path that wouldn't get you smashed to pieces by other polygons! You won!
The other 'good' endings are almost exactly the same, having the PC dancing with other hexagons.
The whole game is just a set of menus leading to the PC either being killed or joining other hexagons and dancing. It's a story, generously speaking, but the non-ending parts of the story would probably fill less than half a page.
The Adventures of a Hexagon is not worth the few minutes it takes to complete.
Play time: about 5 minutes.
A bit of background: for Shufflecomp, prospective authors submitted a list of songs, which the organizer shuffled and sent back out. Authors were then to write a game inspired by (at least) one of the songs they were assigned (details). Nova Heart is inspired by seven songs.
I found Nova Heart's story to have a disjointed feel. There are sudden transitions and shifts in perspective, and the whole thing is rather bizarre. Intentionally, I assume.
Interesting language and vivid imagery are Nova Heart's strongest points.
You are in a woman's clean white utopic apartment, one hundred floors above the city.
The wailing sirens of the deathpaddywagons are drawing closer. You have to run.
Compared to Nova Heart, the last game I played, Sparkle is a much more traditional piece of interactive fiction. Not merely because it's parser-based and written in Inform--it has very much the traditional feel of interactive fiction. The introduction ends with "The road ends here at an abandoned cable car platform. The cableway leads directly to my destination. I must get it running, somehow.", and inspecting the cable car reveals that it is locked to the platform with an iron bar, which is attached to the platform with bolts. I will need a wrench!
With this as motivation, I explored the surroundings, coming to a gate guarded by a dog. Then the game instructed me to "Find a quiet place to MEDITATE." I'd just seen such a place, so I did as instructed, and the game revealed a piece of information--"dog equals flute"--and a new mechanic: "With this information I can CHANGE things INTO their counterpart identities. I can also THINK to recall previously learned information."
I was fairly excited by the possibilities, at this point, but I'm afraid that Sparkle didn't quite live up to my expectations. The rest of the game involves solving some pretty standard puzzles with the aid of the new mechanic. That's all pretty solid, but the only way to learn which objects can be changed into which others is to inspect some objects, and then meditate. Some of the objects you've examined may work with the new command. Or maybe not.
My biggest disappointment with this game is that the changing-things-into-things mechanic (Spoiler - click to show)turns out not to actually be a puzzle. The game tells you, of this mechanic, that "the key to true enlightenment is to observe the Pattern and to understand it," but that's a red herring. The pattern is that there is no pattern--according to the game, anything can be changed into anything. That's not actually true, though: objects can only actually be turned into the counterparts the game specifies, and only after the game tells you that you can, too--nothing clever happens on repeated playthroughs.
Despite my disappointment with the game's unique mechanic, Sparkle does have a few things to recommend it. There are a number of optional puzzles, listed by the game as achievements. I didn't get all of them, but they seem to be well-integrated into the game. For example, during one event, you're told that your clothes get wet, and later you discover an umbrella--the obvious thing is to (on a subsequent playthrough) get the umbrella first, and protect your clothes. And, indeed, this yields an achievement--nice. The achievement system does seem to be†a little buggy, though--I got some achievements that I didn't actually complete, and I think it didn't always notify me when I got one.
Also, Sparkle is written in first person, but can optionally be put into second person, which is a neat gimmick.
Overall, I'm pretty pleased with this game. If it gets a post-comp release fixing the trouble with the achievements system, I might like to go back and try to complete some of the optional puzzles.
Play time: about 45 minutes.
Sadly, this game is one I couldn't finish. The author indicates that this game has been made easier to comply with the comp rules (the two-hour rule, I suppose), but I sincerely doubt that anyone will finish the game, because the walkthrough is a bit over 700 commands long. To complete the game you'd need to execute one (correct!) command every ten seconds. Judging by the walkthrough, in 48 minutes I got through about a sixth of the game.
If the game were only too long, I would have continued to play for the full two hours games are allotted. Unfortunately, the game has three crippling flaws: first, it is tedious; second, it is unfriendly (more on this later); third, it is buggy.
The tedium is, I presume, intentional: it's intended to reflect the tedium of war. To that end, the game involves plenty of actions that are boring, repetitive, or both. The walkthrough contains (from about 700 turns) 57 turns of waiting, 19 turns of sleeping, and 16 turns of 'again', which are mostly sleeping or waiting. When you are acting, you are often doing something like drop pants / crap in trench / pull up pants.
The unfriendliness is the main reason I gave up. Any little thing you do that isn't according to script will generally end the game. Leave the latrine without using it? "You didn't take your shite! GAME OVER MATEY!". Walk onto the battlefield without cleaning your rifle? "You didn't clean your rifle! GAME OVER MATEY!". Try to take the supplies you're after, rather than asking for them? "GAME OVER MATEY!".
It's not generally obvious what you're meant to do until you've already failed. How was I to know I had to clean the rifle? Its description didn't mention anything. For that matter, how was I to know I had to attach the bayonet myself? The game over message tells me that "Your rifle is missing a critical part.", but attempting to examine it again gives me "You've already examined the rifle.". The game won't let you examine anything twice, or talk to anyone twice. If you don't have a transcript, you'd better have remembered the names of the members of your platoon--you won't be seeing them again!
It's not always obvious how to accomplish things, either. When you're sent for supplies, trying to simply take them from the supply party gets you killed, but talk to party gives "You can't talk to the supply party." In fact, you must ask party for supplies. But talk to grant worked, earlier. The requirements are inconsistent. Once, when talking to Grant, you must salute (or game over!), but later, saluting isn't necessary.
Finally, the game is buggy. If you talk to Grant in the Main Trench before going out on the recon mission, he gives the speech that he gave earlier about you needing to go pick up supplies. Waiting repeatedly will repeatedly give the text about Grant arriving. Sometimes waiting will just do nothing with no message at all. And it's not strictly a bug, but take all should not open up every container and fill my inventory with several screens worth of cigarettes and grenades and things. It should just pick up the items I dropped. Very irritating!
All that said, the game does have its good points. The author indicates that it's intended to be fairly realistic, based on his over 40 years of study, and there are plenty of interesting details. There are some detailed descriptions of certain items, and the language and situation are (apparently--the first World War is not my forte) also intended to be realistic. For my part, I'd enjoy it more simply exploring the environment than having the game nag at me about every minor detail (and the author promises that "When it goes up on the archive, it will be much harder with Release 2." Not necessary!).
Hill 160 has potential, but I won't be returning to the current release.
Play time: 48 minutes.
ONS is a short comedy game with one puzzle sequence. I spent about 35 minutes prodding everything in the game before I finished, but I imagine 10 minutes would more than suffice, if you just proceed toward the goal--and particularly if you aren't using the rather slow web-based interpreter.
I appreciate the customized responses to trying to take various objects, and the randomly chosen sections of text (e.g. when knocking on Mara's door) are a nice touch. The ending, though not entirely unexpected, is a good enough payoff for the few minutes the game takes to complete.
On the other hand, you don't have any real options--either you proceed linearly through the story, or you don't proceed at all. I wanted to try tricking the dude into saying his name. To break down in tears to avoid the situation. To call him Rumpelstiltskin, if his name is so important. Anything to have some choice--but I had none. More mundanely, there are few objects implemented, and no real, interactive NPCs. The parser is a little obtuse, too: you've got to knock door or use bottle on floor, which aren't exactly the first commands that came to mind.
Overall, an average-quality game, which would probably be more at home in the first ifcomp than the twentieth.
Post-review pre-posting note: Okay, I think this review needs an addendum. Other reviewers seem to be unanimous in despising this game. It was my assumption throughout the game that it was a work of parody--the several-inches deep layer of grease on the kitchen floor not a greater exaggeration than the PC's absurd internal monologue. Surely the game is so stupid exactly because it's undermining its nominal position. Of course, while writing the review, I was under the impression that the author was a woman (Wrong! Giannis is a Greek name which is the masculine form Gianna. The more you know.), and that therefore the PC must be a parody of the ridiculous caricatures of women we see in games and other media (maybe not?).
It's against my policy to change my judgment after reading other reviews, so I'll let this review stand as-is. I'd rather be too generous in my assumptions about other people than too harsh. In retrospect, though, if you take seriously the bits that I assumed to be failed comedy, then the game really does become rather unpalatable... so take this review with a grain of salt.
The game is very brief--I spent about ten minutes beating it, exploring everything as thoroughly as possible--but it has a few entertaining bits. For example, if you check your inventory, you're told that "You have everything that you need.", and in the Binary Room you can take 0 (or take nothing) and your inventory will change to "You have nothing." If you take other objects, e.g. take 1, then "You have nothing and a 1." You can drop nothing and then "You have a 1 and everything that you need." Inspired by The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, if I'm not mistaken, quite appropriate for a piece of IF which is about a piece of IF.
The game's solution more or less makes sense, though you're more likely to stumble across it than to reason it out. I've written some invisiclues-style hints for the game, if you're stuck.
Undo has a few neat ideas and an interesting premise, but it doesn't really do anything with them, and feels more like Speed-IF than a real game. It can safely remain a relic of the past.